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Alcohol abuse grows among pregnant poor.

Alcohol abuse grows among pregnant poor

Abusive drinking among low-income pregnant women treated at a large urban hospital doubled over the last decade, with the increase due mainly to a tripling in the percentage of white women reporting alcohol abuse, according to a study described in the October OBSTETRICS AND GYNECOLOGY.

Alcohol abuse, defined as the consumption of four or more alcoholic drinks daily, held steady among black and Hispanic women. But rates of illicit drug use -- particularly cocaine -- rose over the same time period for the entire sample of women, notes study director Bertis B. Little of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

"Many of these women are using drugs because they're addicted, psychologically or physically," he says.

Little and his co-workers surveyed alcohol abuse at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Women in the study are from families making less than $14,000 in 1987.

From 1977 to 1980, 38 of 5,602 pregnant women surveyed (0.7 percent of the sample) said they absued alcohol during pregnancy. In 1987, 14 of 1,032 pregnant women (1.4 percent of the sample) reported abusive drinking.

The most striking finding emerges in a comparison of ethnic groups. About 0.6 percent of black women and 0.3 percent of Hispanic women reported alcohol abuse initially and again in 1987. In contrast, 1.13 percent of white women in the initial sample abused alcohol, whereas 3.4 percent reported alcohol abuse in 1987.

The same researchers previously found that about 10 percent of pregnant blacks and whites seen at the Texas hospital in 1987 regularly use cocaine, Little says. The rate of cocaine use is much lower for Hispanic women, he notes, because many in the Dallas area are devout Catholics from Mexico who consume no alcohol or illicit drugs.

"There's been a poor job of educating low-income women about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy," Little contends. For example, most women in the Dallas sample have not heard of fetal alcohol syndrome, a mix of physical, mental and behavioral abnormalities afflicting many babies born to mothers who drink heavily during pregnancy.

"I hope our study motivates the authorities to put warning labels on alcoholic beverages with a description of fetal alcohol syndrome," Little says.
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Author:Bower, B.
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 7, 1989
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